An engineer's tips for answering "Tell me about yourself"

An interviewing guide for engineers from a lead engineer at Capital One

Capital One has many engineers, and we pride ourselves on maintaining a high-performance culture that is also a great place to grow engineers and engineering leaders that treat people well. We’ve all been through the engineering interview process, and the one question that’s hard to avoid is: “Tell me about yourself.”

How to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question in an engineering interview.

I’ve interviewed many engineers, and have been in interviews myself. Some advice from my experience on how to answer this question is: 

  1. Relax
  2. Keep it professional
  3. Keep it relatively short--slightly longer than an elevator pitch, but not too much longer
  4. Avoid restating your resume
  5. Hit the highlights

Here’s an example of how I might answer the “Tell me about yourself” question:

I’m an experienced software engineering leader with a history of successful project delivery and team leadership across healthcare IT, federal contracting and financial services. In my role as an engineer and engineering team leader, my mission is to grow effective engineers and teams.

I fulfill my mission through these principles:

  • Constructive and honest communication
  • Seeking feedback regularly for continuous improvement
  • Promoting a team culture where everyone has opportunities to learn and to teach
  • Standardizing and socializing patterns and practices that consistently lead to successful delivery of high-quality software
  • Prioritizing the delivery of business value ahead of technology for its own sake
  • Creating space for technical innovation through experimentation
  • Proactively seeking and removing roadblocks to engineering productivity
  • Sharing credit for successes

Top questions an engineer should ask their interviewer during the interview

Alongside answering this question yourself, you should feel empowered to ask your interviewer some questions. Because the interview is just as much a time for the company and team to get to know you as it is for you to get to know them. Below are 5 questions to consider asking during your engineering interview:

How do you “grow” your engineers?  What specific steps do you take to support their professional growth?

Especially if the interviewer is the hiring manager, look for specifics like online training, support for taking time during regular business hours to take that training, and regular one-on-one meetings with your direct manager.  Especially when it comes to one-on-ones, companies that do that (and Capital One does that, and the other two things as well) are putting their money where their mouth is regarding growing engineers.

What circumstances created this opening?

Circumstances could be company growth or the departure of someone to a new opportunity.  Either way, the way your interviewer answers this question should help give you a clearer sense of the environment you’d be stepping into if an offer is extended and you accept it.

How do you nurture psychological safety in your team?

The answer to this question should give you a sense of the team’s openness to different perspectives, willingness to seek out input from every team member, and how they typically handle mistakes.

Can I speak to other members of the team to hear more about their experience?

This is an opportunity to talk to your potential new peers.  Depending on how much information you have been provided beforehand, you might even have found your interviewer(s) on LinkedIn prior to the interview to give you additional insights.

Talk about the promotion process—when was the last time you promoted someone on your team? Is managing people a requirement for professional advancement?

If the company you’re interviewing with has a growth path for engineers who want to increase their technical scope and responsibilities but do not want to manage people, the interviewer’s response to this question should provide details about that.  Capital One provides just such a growth path for engineers who want to remain individual contributors with roles and levels equivalent to people management from the team level all the way up to the executive level.  

Empowering engineers with interview tips for success

Preparing for a job interview can be a challenging and nerve-wracking experience. However, with the right mindset, approach, and preparation, it is possible to ace your interview and land your dream job. Remember to keep your answers professional, concise, and avoid repeating your resume.

Additionally, don't forget to ask your interviewer relevant questions to gain insight into the company's culture and growth opportunities. By following these tips, you can confidently navigate your next engineering interview and be one step closer to landing your dream job.

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Scott Lawrence, Senior Manager, Software Engineering, Digital Customer Experience

Scott Lawrence is an engineering lead with 10 years of people management experience, including 5 years (and counting) at Capital One. In addition to designing and leading lunch & learn programs at Capital One and previous employers and facilitating the DevOps in a Day course for Capital One’s professional hires and TDPs, he conducts behavioral interviews for prospective hires at the internship, TDP, and professional levels. His mission is to grow effective engineers and engineering teams.

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